Diary of a Village-Builder part 2

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More news from my activities in Edinburgh’s West End.  Part 1 of this diary had me getting started here by making contact with a Facebook group, helping to promote it and starting conversations with residents and traders.  That was at the start of August 2020, and the Facebook group had 200 members.  It’s now mid-October and our Facebook group has grown to around 650 members!  This is great news – we have definitely reached a critical mass in terms of being a known presence in the area, and people are continuing to apply to join every day.

Communication

It’s been very interesting to see the group evolving from its original 19 members in June. Here are some things I have learned having been a moderator and admin for the group in that time.

  • We’ve been very clear that it’s for local residents, workers and businesses, and we only accept membership requests from people in those categories. We ask specifically where folk live/work in the West End when they join. My colleague Paul has worked very hard on contacting people who don’t seem to be here, to clarify the situation.  We have had requests from as far afield as Australia!  It seems to be a good thing to be clear, specific and rigorous on the membership.
  • We have had good success with a ‘photo of the month’ competition. We encourage members to post their photos of the area, and one of them gets selected (by the group admins) to be our header photo for the month. And of course all the pics can be seen in the group. This month’s pic is a dramatic shot of a local square by a 15-year-old photographer! (See it on the right.)
  • A lot of local business understandably want to be present and promote themselves. We are OK with this as long as it’s specifically written for locals, stresses the neighbourhood aspects and is not too frequent (one or two a month, no more).  What we don’t allow is thoughtless reposts, banner ads, regurgitated material from elsewhere.  It’s a balance we are learning and most of our members seem to have the hang of it.  For those that don’t, their posts are moderated and deleted.
  • We had a admins meeting in August (outside and distanced of course!) and sat around to have a chat in person, say hello, talk about future developments and ideas. This was very useful to get to know each other.  We have since added another moderator to share the workload and enable quick responses if the others are tied up (thanks Stevie!).

Another aspect of connection is to use the public channels available.  Paul has been touch with our local council, and as a result I now have keys to the official notice boards!  These had been unopened for months due to the pandemic, and the department who looked after them have been dissolved in a reorganisation.  I have tidied them up and create some new information pointing people to local shopping areas, beauty spots and hidden parks, adding QR codes so that visitors can immediately get more information on their phones. ‘Notice board monitor’ sounds like something you might be at primary school, but it’s certainly another way of getting information out to locals and visitors alike.

Meeting places

This is one area where the West End has not been historically well served.  There is little in the way of traffic-free spaces that is publicly available outside, apart from a well-used grassy area by the cathedral for exercising dogs.  Our local traders were planning an outside market there in August but sadly it fell through due to licensing restrictions.  We’ve had more luck on the ‘inside’ front though – one of our local bars has offered a space for a monthly ‘newcomers meet-up’ with wine and snacks which is super and very generous of them.  It’s a shame that our current COVID restrictions prevent them opening at the moment… Indeed, we are not permitted to meet up other than in very small two-household groups in cafes right now, so any kind of physical meetings are off the agenda. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t offer things to get folks working together – see the next section.

Inclusive events

We had plans for an ‘open weekend’ around the end of September/start of October to encourage people to get out and about. In the end this didn’t feel right with an uptick in COVID cases, so it was shelved. One thing we have put into place is a ‘Treasure Trail’ walk, a self-guided expedition taking around 90 minutes with a downloadable/printable instruction sheet.  It was written by a local Blue Badge guide and is aimed at family groups to do together as a way of getting out and exploring the area.  The route points out local cafes and shops as well, to try to create a bit more trade in these difficult times. Local businesses have offered some prizes, and it’s in full swing at the moment.  At least it’s a way to encourage people out into some part of our patch they might not visit normally (who knew there was a cathedral music school hidden away?).

Next steps

It feels like we are already in a much more engaged and involving place then in June!  I am thinking about getting some local conversation going around the six elements of a Village In The City and getting more views on where we are, what we have and what folks might contribute. These elements are in the Manifesto and are:

  • Inclusivity
  • Communication
  • Hosts
  • Meeting spaces
  • Inclusive events
  • Identity – what makes this place special?

Interested to help your own ‘village’ to be a better place? Join me on our new monthly calls for new and existing Village-Builders – whether you are new to this and want to make your life and your place better, or whether you’ve been doing it for years and want to share your experience and pick up a new idea or two.  The first will be on Wednesday 18 November 2020 at 4pm UK time.  Register free by emailing me at mark@villageinthecity.net to join in and we can talk village-building. Whether you’re new to it (like me) or been at it for years, I’d love to talk with you.

Next Village In The City call: Wednesday 11 November 2020, 4pm UK time – engaging with churches, with special guest Rev Nick Bowry.  More details and registration here.

Next village-building call: Wed 18 November 2020, 4pm UK time – all welcome, email me at mark@villageinthecity.net to get the call link. Hope to hear from you soon.

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